A London-based media company at the centre of a global news-fixing row that has engulfed the BBC and CNBC has gone into administration after it was revealed in The Independent that it made programmes for the BBC about Malaysia while taking £17m from the Malaysian government to promote its image.
FBC Media (UK) and its parent company FBC Group, with offices in the City, called in administrators on Monday, days before the BBC Trust is due to consider a report prepared by the BBC Executive on a series of programmes that the production company made for broadcast on the corporation's international news and current affairs channel BBC World News.
The company is also under investigation by the American-owned broadcaster CNBC, for which it produced a flagship weekly show called World Business. The programme has been dropped and CNBC, part of the NBC network, has suspended all programming from FBC, which continues to maintain a presence in Italy and India. The subject is also being examined by Ofcom.
In August, The Independent revealed that since 2009 FBC has made at least four programmes for the BBC about Malaysia after being allocated millions of pounds by the Kuala Lumpur government to conduct a "Global Strategic Communications Campaign". FBC, which did PR work as well as making television content, also hired the American lobbying company APCO for the purpose of "raising awareness of the importance of policies in Malaysia that are pro-business and pro-investment".
The story has caused a political row in Malaysia which threatens to cause lasting damage to the BBC's reputation for impartiality. Then last month, FBC was shown to have promised its client Microsoft "guaranteed" coverage on the show that it made for CNBC.
But FBC denied any impropriety and said, via its lawyers, that "at no time have the television programmes made for the BBC ever been influenced or affected by our client's commercial activities". FBC's lawyers said the company ran production and commercial divisions which "are and always have been quite separate and distinct".
The company's affairs are now in the hands of Buckinghamshire-based administrators Hillier Hopkins Corporate Recovery. FBC, incorporated in 1998, was a vehicle for high-profile figures led by founder and chairman Alan Friedman, an American former award-winning reporter for the Financial Times and the International Herald Tribune.
They built a network of blue-chip clients that included the governments of Greece, Italy and Zambia, with contracts to promote tourism in Malaysia, Indonesia and Hungary.
Carter-Ruck, the law firm which has previously represented FBC, did not return calls last night.